By RONALYN V. OLEA
Greek dramatist Aeschylus said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
President Ferdinand Marcos knew this when he launched a war against democracy on Sept. 21, 1972. His first Letter of Instruction ordered the closure of all newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Denying the public access to information was a key ingredient in his dictatorship.
Included in the Armed Forces of the Philippines “National List of Target Personalities” were reporters, editors and columnists from the Manila Times, the Daily Mirror, the Philippines Herald, the Manila Chronicle, the Philippine News Service, the Evening News and Taliba. Writers Luis R. Mauricio, Ninotchka Rosca, and Napoleon Rama were also imprisoned at the Camp Crame Detention Center.
Days after the imposition of Martial Law, Marcos only allowed media outfits run by his cronies to operate. Imelda’s brother Benjamin Romualdez owned The Times Journal, Times Mirror and the People’s Journal. Marcos’s aide Hanz Menzi owned Bulletin Today, Tempo, Balita and Panorama while his crony Roberto Benedicto controlled Daily Express, Weekend magazine, TV channels 9 and 13, and subsequently, the sequestered channel 2. The crony press served as Marcos’s mouthpieces.
Government issued guidelines for the monitoring of all stories. Censorship then was an atrocious form of disinformation and misinformation.
It was in this context that the alternative press was revived under Martial Law. Collectively called the mosquito press were aboveground publications WE Forum and Ang Pahayagang Malaya of Jose Burgos Jr., Signs of the Times by the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Mr. & Ms. Magazine pioneered by Eugenia Apostol; underground publications such as Ang Bayan, Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas, Taliba ng Bayan, Liberation, and their numerous counterparts in the provinces, and the student publications under the banner of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. In the later years of the dictatorship, the Philippine News and Features (PNF), Philippine Panorama and WHO magazine also published stories critical of the dictatorship.
Here are some of the lies peddled by Marcos and exposed by the mosquito press:
1) Martial Law was necessary to curb the dangers of communism.
In declaring Martial Law, Marcos cited the “communist insurgency” and the ambush of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
Satur Ocampo who joined the underground press during Marcos years, said that “the overestimation of the leftist forces was a lie” to justify the declaration of Martial Law. The then three-year-old NPA only had 350 guerrillas, according to NPA’s own history.
As for the ambush, Enrile himself, after the ouster of Marcos, admitted that it was staged “to steal power.”
Even student publications exposed this lie, saying that Marcos imposed martial law to perpetuate himself in power.
Liliosa Hilao, associate editor of Ang Hasik, student publication of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, wrote an essay titled, “Democracy is Dead in the Philippines under Martial Law.”
Hilao was arrested by drunken soldiers in April 1973 and found dead the next day. Her body bore marks of torture and sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento Jr., then editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, published a statement assessing the three years of Martial Law signed by 500 opposition leaders.
Sarmiento was interrogated by Enrile and imprisoned for three months. His health deteriorated because of the miserable prison conditions. He died at the age of 27.
2) Marcos was the most decorated hero of World War II.
A book written by John Hartzell Spence said that Marcos was awarded 28 medals for his heroism during World War II. Spence also claimed that Marcos single-handedly delayed the fall of Bataan by three months.
WE Forum published a series of reports on Marcos’s fake war medals. The report quoted the military commander of the unit where Marcos was assigned to saying “Marcos had no participation whatsoever in any combat operations during his stint with the 14th Infantry Battalion” and, if he was ever wounded, “it must be that he was bitten by a leech.”
For these stories, the military filed subversion cases and a P4-million libel case against Jose Burgos Jr. and WE Forum. Burgos and company were also accused of “plotting to overthrow the government.”
On Dec. 7, 1982, Metrocom raided the WE Forum office and arrested all the columnists, circulation, advertising and production managers.
3) Martial Law was good for the economy.
Even now, we hear Marcos loyalists saying this. The crony press, including Business Day, which was too willing to publish the official praise releases from the Palace, all trumpeted the so-called “golden age of the Philippine economy.”
Ang Bayan, news organ of the Communist Party of the Philippines, published stories exposing how the export-oriented and import-dependent economy did not bring development to rural areas, and instead, benefited only a handful few. For instance, an article written by Antonio Zumel underscored that Marcos’s export program worsened the economic crisis, with trade deficit ballooning from $124 million in 1972 to $1 billion in 1978.
The famine in Negros broke any illusion of progress. In 1985, a photograph of a malnourished child named Joel Abong was published by an international NGO running a feeding program in the island.
Note too that when Marcos took power in 1965, the national debt was US$500 million; when he fled the country in 1986, it was already US$28 billion. It is no exaggeration when survivors of Martial Law would say that Filipinos are still paying for these loans.
PNF ran stories about the increasing debt, child labor, land reform, among other issues that were not usually covered by the establishment press.
4) Victims of extrajudicial killings were terrorists or New People’s Army guerrillas.
On Nov. 14, 1978, soldiers bombed sitios Dumatog and Malingao in Midsayap, North Cotabato leaving 20 Moro civilians dead and 35 others wounded. The crony press, quoting official military sources, said the villages were bombed because 600 terrorists were stationed there and were about to attack nearby villages. The military officers also labeled the victims as “terrorists.”
Ang Bayan released a story about the incident.
Much later, on June 21, 1982, five peasant organizers were arrested by Philippine Constabulary in Barangay Balatong, Pulilan, Bulacan. The next day, their bodies were displayed for public viewing in San Rafael, Bulacan. The crony press claimed that the five were NPA guerrillas killed in an encounter and that guns and ammunition were recovered from the “slain dissidents.”
A story in WHO magazine questioned the military’s claims, pointing out why the five ended up dead after submitting themselves to the PC without resistance.
5) Stories about alleged human rights abuses had malicious intent to discredit Marcos and the state forces.
Several stories which detailed some of the gruesome human rights violations perpetrated under Martial Law were labeled as “propaganda” aiming to undermine the people’s faith in government.
A ranking military officer claimed that the two-part series of Jo-an Maglipon, for example, about the atrocities committed against the Ata-Manobo in Davao del Norte, contained “numerous imputations that government troops intimidated, tortured, and massacred innocent civilians.”
Maglipon was subjected to a three-hour interrogation by the military and was also threatened of being charged with libel.
Ma. Ceres Doyo’s story on the killing of two civilians and torture of many other residents in Bataan, site of the infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and economic processing zone, was labeled as “downright seditious, scurrilous, vile and malicious.”
The military filed a P10-million libel case against Doyo and Panorama editor Domini Torrevillas Suarez.
Panorama and WHO magazine ran stories on the April 24, 1980 killing of Kalinga tribe leader Macli-ing Dulag, the massacre in barrio Sag-od, Las Navas, Samar on Sept. 15, 1982 which left 45 men, women and children dead; the murder of Dr. Bobby dela Paz on April 23, 1982, among others.
On the murder of Dela Paz, the military initially claimed that he was killed by NPA guerrillas. When the public rejected this, the military then identified a soldier, which witnesses said was a fall guy.
PNF and student publications also published stories about military atrocities in the provinces. PNF had a network of correspondents and bureau chiefs all over the country who were also actively involved in the anti-dictatorship movement.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) also printed a weekly publication called Various Reports, which contained stories on military atrocities and reprinted articles from the foreign press such as those from Penthouse and Cosmopolitan, and even Time magazine, which were critical of Marcos and Imelda.
6) Marcos enjoyed the support of the people.
Marcos and Imelda portrayed themselves as popular among the people.
Issues of Ang Bayan and other revolutionary papers were replete with stories of resistance even before the assassination of then Marcos’s rival Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.
In its November 14, 1972 edition, Taliba ng Bayan reported how hundreds of students held a lightning rally at the Arts and Sciences lobby singing “Lupang Hinirang.” Another account describes how students at the dormitories chanted “Marcos! Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!” to the sound of their spoon and fork.
In its October 15, 1978 issue, for example, Ang Bayan reported how activists held lighting rallies in Metro Manila and other urban centers on the sixth year of the declaration of Martial Law. Slogans “Bigo ang Batas Militar” and “Digmang Bayan, Sagot sa Martial Law” were painted on the walls.
The La Tondeña strike, the first to openly defy Martial Law, was published by Signs of the Times.
Such stories of defiance boosted the morale of the people against the Marcos dictatorship, according to Carolina Malay who wrote for underground publications during Martial Law.
UG publications were widely circulated even if the mere possession of these could get anyone in jail or killed. Ang Pahayagang Malaya and WE Forum enjoyed public support; its reach and circulation grew between 1979 and 1982.
Undoubtedly, the mosquito press played a crucial role in informing the citizenry, which helped propel the movement to oust the late dictator.
Today, the occupant in Malacanang is going by Marcos’s playbook.
The Duterte administration ordered the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN, filed several charges against Rappler, brought down the websites of alternative media outfits, and arrested community journalists for their brave truth-telling.
Journalists writing stories about the drug-related killings, human rights violations and other critical stories are again branded as “communist propagandists.”
Instead of crony press, Duterte has the Presidential Communications Operations Office and a troll army peddling disinformation, and discrediting, harassing and intimidating journalists for doing their job.
Just like the time of Marcos, libel is still being used as a weapon to silence and intimidate the press. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 24 journalists have been slapped with libel and cyberlibel since Duterte assumed office.
Forty-eight years after Marcos declared martial law, Filipino journalists continue to resist attempts to muzzle the press.
* The author presented this paper during the online conference on historical revisionism dubbed Balik Ka/Saysay/An on Sept. 22 organized by the Asian Center for Journalism (ACFJ) and Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation in partnership with Tanggol Kasaysayan and Bulatlat.
Bulatlat is also a convenor of Tanggol Kasaysayan.
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